Last year, more than 17,000 high school students in local counties completed coursework to meet the preliminary admissions requirement for Fresno State. About 9,000 of these and other transfer students earned almost a B average, making them eligible to attend, only to be denied admission due to overcrowding at this campus of their choice. There was no room at the inn. Instead, students received an email redirecting them to another less impacted campus.
Many qualified and highly motivated applicants to Fresno State who were denied admission face hardships not of their own making, despite in many cases, accomplishing herculean efforts to seek a college education. No doubt thousands of students cannot afford the transportation and housing costs associated with redirection to another campus. Many applicants are from rural communities who choose to stay close to their families. Others selected Fresno State for its highly regarded reputation in such areas of study as agriculture, business administration, teacher training, social work and the humanities. Instead, they were told there is no room at the inn.
The central San Joaquin Valley has economic, education, and geographic challenges that differ from other areas of the state. Broad career opportunities and sufficient jobs that offer a living wage lag far behind the rich diversity of its population. Local schools are underfunded, face increased teacher shortages, and are located in rural areas that lack adequate access to resources found in large urban school districts. Small agricultural communities are often physically isolated from urban centers due to ineffective or nonexistent transportation systems. Small wonder many students prefer Fresno State for its financial affordability, educational programs, student support systems, and community relations. However, it must be incredibly disheartening to learn there is no room at the inn.
The Central Valley would immensely benefit from an increased number of Fresno State college graduates, as evidence suggests many remain in the Valley. Valley-grown graduates are necessary to establish thriving businesses and to develop conscientious entrepreneurs to counter the large unemployment rate and diversify the local economy. A new generation of agricultural workers could generate sophisticated technologies that no longer demand dirty boots from trampling the fields, calloused hands from toiling in the fruit orchards, or physical disabilities from stoop labor. Additional teachers could finally reflect the ethnic and racial background of their students. Social engineers could be groomed to better understand the Valley-specific genesis of poverty, racial discrimination, housing shortages, and the detrimental effects of isolated rural communities. Politically astute public servants could be better equipped to relentlessly advocate for and represent Valley constituents, who for too long have been shamefully ignored by the state and federal government.
Impaction is the official process California State University campuses use for restricting admissions when applicant numbers overburden enrollment space. Currently, Fresno State joins San Jose, Long Beach, San Luis Obispo, Fullerton and San Diego as impacted campuses. While it appears that impaction effects are not ethnically or racially discriminatory, neither does the policy advance college access opportunities to segments of the student population that warrant strategic attention. For example, Latino males trail their female counterparts by 20 percentage points in applications to Fresno State. It remains unclear if rural students are adversely affected by impaction. President Castro has rightfully boasted the large number of students who are the first family member to earn a college degree. About 62 percent of the 2019 graduating class are students with parents without bachelor’s degrees. Almost half of the graduates are underrepresented minority students. However, by constraining admissions, impaction impedes efforts to target other enrollment and graduation disparities.
During the last 24 years, the Association of Mexican American Educators, in collaboration with Fresno State, has sponsored the Sí Se Puede Conference for high school Latino male students. The purpose of conference is to allow students the opportunity to learn about career choices and opportunities from dedicated and successful Latino professionals. Disturbingly, with the increased rate of denied admissions to qualified students, is there deception in the message that if students study hard and get good grades, Fresno State is a genuine college option? Or should the incentive be tempered with the warning there may not be room at the inn?
Paul A. Garcia is a retired educator living in Fresno.